Patrick Rona
Sep 13, 2012

OPINION: It’s not all about technology

Marketers and agencies must resist becoming enamored with technology for technology's sake at the expense of sensible marketing fundamentals, writes Patrick Rona, president of Tribal DDB Asia Pacific and chief digital officer of DDB Group Asia Pacific.

OPINION: It’s not all about technology

I was talking to my colleague Georgy Strakhov yesterday, and we both agreed that really successful innovations aren’t simply technological—that using technology for technology’s sake is not always the best approach for communications. Just because something is a great new digital idea—doesn't mean that it is the best idea for our client. We also agreed that there always has to be a clever psychological aspect behind using technology to encourage the consumer to ‘engage’.

Georgy’s comments were compelling, so I’m dedicating this piece to him.

Too often marketers, and agencies, think that being innovative is simply about using the latest technology. And while it's great that they want to stay on top of technological innovation, it only really helps us understand what’s possible. The really hard (and really important) part is understanding where technology can help change human behaviour.

Sadly, marketers often approach innovation from the wrong angle—with the belief that they should use a certain technology because their competitors are or because of media hype.

As much as we like clients that want to push the boundaries of innovation, there are many times that ‘to innovate’ is not the right solution. Chances are marketers will end up with ideas and executions that look good as a case study but don’t make sense for the brand’s audience, or their business.

An example of a buzz technology that failed to deliver to the hype is augmented reality (AR), the overlaying of digital data on the real world. The technology itself is awesome, and it opens up an endless opportunities to transform the way people perceive the real world.

Unfortunately, not all applications of the nascent technology showcase its possibilities. Instead, some slap it into use without careful forethought and understanding.

Lets play it out…

Scene 1: Agency taking brief for new product launch with a client misguided by the coolness of technology.

Client: I’m selling washing machines to 30+ year-old females and my whole campaign is about the best-in-class energy efficiency.

Agency: Ok, great. Got it.

Client: No one in the washing machine category has used AR technology before. Let’s put an AR marker into our full-page print ad in a women’s fashion magazine.

Agency: Yes, that’s an interesting idea. I think AR is a great technology, but I’m not sure it will work with the target audience.

Client: Why not? The copy on the print ad will prompt users to download a special app to see something really amazing. I’ve been reading about how you can add more information and push them to our website.

Agency: Yes, that’s an interesting idea. I think AR is a great technology, but I’m not sure it will work with the target audience.

Client: Users can download the special app and point the camera onto the marker and they’ll see a static 3D model of the washing machine and will be able to see it from all angles.

Agency: Yes, that’s an interesting idea. I think AR is a great technology, but I’m not sure it will work with the target audience.

Client: Why not?

You know where this is heading.

There are many, many things that are wrong with this fictional example: audience mismatch, the high cost of entry for the user to experience the technology and most importantly, technology doesn’t help deliver the brand message. All in all, this approach can be characterised as “using technology for the sake of using technology”.

Now let’s imagine the thought process of another marketer that could lead to better results:

Scene 2: Agency taking brief for new product launch with a client that appreciates and understands how technology can help change human behaviour.

Client: I’m selling sunglasses to 20- to 30-year-old men and women with a high income and my whole campaign is built around the idea that ‘everybody looks cooler in our sunglasses’.

Agency: I like the brief. Everyone wants to look cool. The best way to deliver the message is to let people experience it, in a situation where they are receptive to the brand message. Let’s replace mirrors in the washrooms of nightclubs / cafes with AR-enabled ones.

Client: And there’s a button on the mirror, which says, “look cooler”.

Agency: Yeah. And when somebody presses the button, a camera behind the mirror with a face-detection technology applies your branded glasses to the eyes of the person standing in front of the mirror. It then projects them back onto the mirror, so that the person can instantly see himself with glasses on.

Client: Oh yeah.

Agency: If people like what they see, they can push another button that will take a picture of them wearing the sunglasses and submit it to your facebook page. Every day one randomly picked “look” will be awarded with real sunglasses.

Client: I love it.

This approach can be characterised as ‘using technology for the sake of delivering the message and changing behaviour’. Unlike Scene 1, technology simply lets the right target audience experience the message in a context that will make sense and enable them to spread the message further.

Scene 2 demonstrates that it’s not really about technology, it’s about using it in the right way.

Famous case studies like VW Fun Theory’s Piano Staircase  or The World’s Deepest Bin have shown us, that it doesn’t even have to be the latest technology. In fact the technology behind Piano Staircase has been available for decades, it’s just that nobody thought of using it in this way to change people’s behaviour.

Or take what Nike is doing with Nike Fuel. FuelBand is a wristband that records data collected by an accelerometer. It tracks calories expended, steps taken and the time of day as well as your NikeFuel score and presents it on an LED display. Your score is based on an algorithm that assigns points to various movements. The more active you are, the more NikeFuel you earn. You can earn it doing just about anything, track your progress with your iPhone or iPad and eventually share it with others via social media platforms. Now that’s clever and relevant use of technology that really gets into the mind of the consumer.

P.S.: As far as I’m aware, the sunglasses idea above has never been brought to life offline (although a similar version has been tested online). So, Ray Ban, if you’re reading this and want to give something like this a try, please do give us a shout.

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